I'm regularly asked when the best time for Salmon fishing in Scotland is. The answer being all too often the proverbial how long is a piece of string? In Scotland we are very fortunate to have a lengthy Salmon season i.e. we have fresh fish entering our rivers somewhere in the country during every month of the year. So what months are best for catching the most prized fish of all - the Spring Salmon? Well the clue here would somewhat be in the title 'Spring Salmon' which would suggest the spring months of March April and May and although we do fish and catch nice fresh ‘spring' Salmon in the months of January and February it's not until March that I would look for a Springer on a regular basis. Of course there have been many good February days particularly on the River Dee - a noted spring river however even here the bulk of fish or the beginning of the main run of fish tend not appear until around the end of March building through April and peaking around the end of May before tailing off through June. As a general rule of thumb on most Scottish rivers this will be the case.
So what about catching a springer? For this I'm going to talk about the Spey the river I know best. Fishing on the Spey during April and May can be so varied sometimes challenging and at other times very easy. Much really depends on water level. If the water is high and cold then fishing with a fly can be challenging whilst if lower and warmer fishing can be very easy.
So what tactics would I be looking to deploy during the first week of April and how would those differ to that of the last week in May assuming that is April is cold and high and May lower and warmer?
Remembering the Spey is a shallow river and during cold conditions fish will tend to favour resting in water of between 3 and 6 feet deep and not running overly fast. This in mind lines I would use to target fish in those conditions would be possibly intermediate and depending on the particular pool with a polyleader attached. Flies will be tubes tied on plastic aluminium and copper with patterns such as Tosh Willie Gunn and Swallow to name but a few; I say this because when fishing for spring fish my personal belief is depth and speed is more important than pattern. Of course not all but most of the time new fish into the pool will lie half way up the water column so in the case of a 3 foot deep pool this may be 18 inches or 50cm from the surface. If 6 feet deep then this will be 3 feet or one meter. If you have seen some new fish entering a pool and nothing happens first time down change the depth and speed fish closer to the bottom the second time down and every second cast fish the fly faster. Also remember that your line of wade is really important when trying to present the fly at the correct depth in the 'fishy' part of the pool. During high water conditions almost 100% of the time wading will not be necessary and fishing from the bank will be best much safer and comfortable. If wading is required and particularly if the waters dirty then be sure and ask the Ghillie or guide where the exact wading lines entry and exit points.
Although not quite as demanding as early April fishing a typical Spey pool at the end of May given low and warmer water conditions will require a little more thought and stealth. Thinking about the fish lying in a pool of three feet or around one meter in depth I'd not now be on an intermediate but would be fishing a footing line with in all probability a sinking polyleader. My fly would now be smaller possibly a number 6 double or single tied with a long tail. The whole fly will be around 5 - 6cm long. To generalise fish tend to be a little more active and will move to the fly more freely at this time when the water temperature is now in the mid 50s or around 12-13oC. Many good anglers would say this is perfect temperature for catching Salmon.
Fish themselves are more likely to lie in slightly shallower more oxygenated water and not in the fast water one would find them in extreme low and warm water. At this time I would also think of the time of day I'd fish. Given that we don't have as many fish as in the past our approach to trying catching fish also changes. My approach to trying to catch a fish with 50 new fish in it will be very different to that if we have only two! This is why in my opinion we cannot take all we have read in books written in the past as gospel. Hard at it is to dispute those legends of the Salmon fishing world the facts are in days of plenty a small size 10 blue charm fished on a floating line may have worked well in the pool stuffed with Salmon lying from the bottom to the top of the water column competition amongst the fish will have been significant. However if there are only two fish and those happen to be lying in the deeper water of the middle of the pool then the chances are they won't come to the wee charm because quite simply without the company of others there is simply not the same desire. I make this statement based on watching fish and their actions from a high vantage point over many years.
Even during the peak of the run the successful Salmon angler will now use much more thought using the full array of tackle available to him or her to hunt their quarry. We all know those successful anglers those who catch more than anyone else but why are they so successful? For me it's all about the time they spend on the river. Like everything else in life timing is everything - from a perfectly timed fly cast to increasing your chances of being in the right place at the right time. In those days of fewer fish having the luxury of fishing pools when new fish arrive in them is paramount to success. Add to this a good knowledge of that particular piece of water and finally a good understanding of how to fish the fly and a little Lady Luck then you have the full recipe for success.
Successful Salmon fishing in April and May is about finding those new fish using your knowledge and if not the knowledge of the Ghillie to place you in the right spot where the fish may be then use your past experience to induce a take. As the temperature rises never be afraid to fish your fly faster through the pool. I have watched fish react positively to this when they would not look at a fly fished slowly that's not to say one should do this all the time it's nothing but yet another tactic along with the huge array of lines and tips we now use to find fish at different depths.
Those are a couple of things that may open your mind a little to catching a spring Salmon during the months of April and May but there is so much more than this. One thing I'd say is if you want to be successful then follow and listen to those who are successful today and not dwell too much on what happened in days gone by.
World-leading Salmon fishing expert and Hardy Consultant Ian Gordon is also a member of the Hardy ProTeam. Regarded as one of the world's leading experts with a double handed rod Ian Gordon has worked in Salmon fishing for nearly 30 years. A World Speycasting Champion he holds STANIC and AAPGAI instructor's qualifications and through his company speyonline.com runs one of the country's premier fishing/casting schools also organising and hosting Salmon fishing holidays on various Scottish as well as Norwegian rivers. Ian has also held fly casting schools in Japan Korea and the US as well as in almost every European and Scandinavian country. Find out more about Ian Gordon.